Art of E-Book Self-publishing

I am not going to talk about writing tips here – but simply what this art of ‘self-publishing’ involves and the steps you will need to take.

Firstly, to produce an e-book, you need a manuscript that you are ready to submit and a great cover design. If you are one of those who prefer to do it all yourself and preferably for free then your next step would be to figure out which distributor suits you best. You have quite a few options to select from such as Smashwords, BookBaby, Lulu and Kindle Direct Publishing.

Next thing to understand is formatting. There are few formats out there which one app can accept and the other will simply not. We will discuss this later once we understand the distributors.

Let’s talk about Smashwords because they offer a great deal to newbie authors. You can sign-up at no cost, upload is free, the ISBN is free, their agreement is non-exclusive which means you hold all the right to your work and can publish anywhere you want, they distribute via multiple online channels, such as the Smashwords.com website, online retailers  like Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, Baker & Taylor, the Diesel eBook Store, mobile phone appvendors like Aldiko on Android, Kobo on all mobile platforms and other online venues – Basically the whole darn community – except Kindle. Also do note that you will have to make sure that the upload is per their style guideline which is sometimes tricky and other times easy. It depends on how well you cope with technology.

Kindle Direct Publishing is a whole new game. But Amazon pays the best i.e. 70% in royalty. Like Smashwords, Amazon too is very friendly to indie writers and to new authors. They offer a lot of services and tips for creating a book. When I searched over Amazons self-publishing website it offered me a tutorial video on how to format my book for kindle. It also listed common errors with e-books that authors have had. This was pleasantly useful because I use this as a checklist. You can also use the ‘Borrow’ system on Amazon which many authors prefer including me. Smashwords, on the other hand has different pricing policy but it doesn’t come close to what Amazon offers.

Now, let’s talk about formats.

Each distributor asks you to upload a completed book file that is appropriately formatted. Services vary in the types of files they accept because standards are still developing in the e-book world. You may find yourself converting and formatting your book multiple times to satisfy the requirements of different services, hence, choose one distributor and try to stay with it for at least five years.

Here are the most commonly used formats for e-books:

EPUB (.epub): This is considered a global standard format for e-books and works seamlessly on most devices. While you cannot directly create an EPUB file from a Word document, you can save your Word document as a TXT (.txt) file and then convert and format it using special software or you could also buy plug-ins for Microsoft Word that enable you to convert Word docs to EPUB files.

Mobipocket (.mobi or .prc): Amazon Kindle uses a modified Mobipocket format for its e-books. You can create Mobipocket files by using the free Mobipocket Creator which allows you to import Word and PDF files.

iBooks (.ibooks): This is a new proprietary format introduced by Apple in January this year. You can create an e-book in the .ibooks format by using Apple’s free iBooks Author software (that you can learn to use via Lynda.com. The advantage of this software is that it allows you to easily create multimedia e-books optimized for tablets. However, there are two major drawbacks. The first is that, as of press time, Apple has restricted the sale of any e-book created specifically through the iBooks Author tool to Apple’s iBookstore. You may not sell your iBooks anywhere else. The second is that iBooks can be read only on the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.

PDF (.pdf): PDFs are still one of the most common formats for selling and distributing e-books, because they can retain the exact formatting, layout, color and illustration of a print edition. However, PDFs can be difficult to convert to standard e-book formats, and do not display well on grayscale reading devices.

Now assuming you have picked Smashwords as your distributor, all you need to worry about is uploading the manuscript in the correct format and style, and as soon as its converted to an ePub version, it will go live. You will however be responsible for placing a price tag on your book but from then on you need to work hard on creating a reputation for yourself & in turn, your book.

What most people do is contact their friends and family and get the word out about their book. To advertise your book to a larger audience you will need to do a few things that may go a long way but the trick is to start before you pick a distributor or even before you begin the proofreading and editing process. I say this because if you are publishing your book for the first time, chances are that no one knows who you are, what you have to offer and whether this offering is any good or not. So you need to create an image for yourself.

Creating an image or reputation is not very difficult but it takes time, effort and often some amount of money. Here are a few things you need to set up before publishing your book:

  • Create a Facebook page
  • Create a Twitter account
  • Create a Pinterest profile
  • Create a blog
  • Create a Goodreads author profile
  • Create a Google Plus account and lastly
  • Become active on Quora

If you already have a profile on each of these then you need to start letting people know about a project that is on your desk and start writing things that are related to it. If you don’t have any of these social media platforms or some these then do create the rest of the profiles because you don’t know which of these platforms will do the trick.

Once you publish your book you can let the whole wide world know about your book that you have authored. You can start posting snippets or excerpts from the book or heck if you want to go the whole nine yards then you can start a marketing campaign as well. This is where the ‘money’ factor comes is in. To advertise your book you will need to spend some money.

Advertising online is a niche on its own. You may need to hire someone or if you know the basics then you can probably do this yourself too. Create a budget for these campaigns and ask yourself how much you are willing to spend on getting the word out. You are going to pay either for each time your ad is viewed, or each time your ad is clicked. In either situation, you need to do your math. If it takes you 50 clicks on your ad before someone buys, and each click costs you $0.20, are you going to make that $10 back in profit?

Free advertising is another option, but that is generally limited to select audiences. You’re effectively going to be showing off your book to people that are showing off their own book. The best chance you have is to push yourself into the spotlight. Give free copies away, start a website (blog), create competitions in which people can win books or merchandise, anything to get your name in as many places as you can. It’s a slow, laborious process, but it can offer impressive rewards.

The important thing to remember in all this is that if you are a writer then there is a high chance you will author another book, perhaps many. So try to keep the joy of writing in writing and not in selling. Don’t get me wrong, when you sell and reap the benefits, it’s an amazing feeling but low sales can get you down and you may get up one day to realize that it was all for nothing. But don’t give up, remember that J K Rowling became famous after her third book Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was published. What’s worse is that Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first title of the series was sent to a number of publishers initially, all of whom rejected the manuscript. It had taken Rowling and her agent, Christopher Little, a whole year of rejection before Bloomsbury accepted the manuscript for printing.

Keep Faith!

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